We all ought to get behind the sugar tax


Fraser McDougall

The Government unveiled their plans for a sugar tax on the soft drinks industry, to be introduced in two years’ time in this month’s budget. Drinks with a total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 millilitres will be affected by the levy – meaning Coke, Sprite and even Tonic Water will soon be taxed. For many charities fighting campaigns on behalf of obesity, this move has been met with utter delight – better late than never, some argue.


The Glasgow Guardian, a number of months ago, published an article slamming the proposed sugar levy. The article focussed more on Jamie Oliver and his social justice credentials than it did the pros or cons of such a sugar levy. The writer argues such a tax is “inherently classist” as the poorer in society consume more unhealthy drinks. To me it seems obvious, even if it is the case that the poorer in society consume sugary drinks the most, this does not mean we should not act to prevent them from doing so – for their own sake.


The facts are clear: a 20% tax on sugary drinks would reduce the number of obese adults in the UK by 180,000 according to research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Whether this targets the wealthy or the poor, such a tax will free up valuable resources in an ever-stretched NHS. And for those concerned about cost, there is a much cheaper alternative and far healthier alternative to fizzy drinks – water.


This being said, the levy would not in fact hit the poorest hardest. The BMJ’s report shows that the tax would see “a greater reduction in obesity in the highest income group (2.1% reduction) compared with the middle income group (0.9%) and lowest income group (1.3%). So, there we have it, the levy will not hit the poor anymore than it hits the wealthy, in fact it will hit them less.


We must remember is a sugar levy is something many people have pushed for for years. Doctors, dentists, health professionals and campaigners have all argued such a policy will help conquer the growing obesity crisis in the country and reduce the massive £5 billion pounds that obesity related complaints cost the NHS annually.


There is not a single answer to the UK’s obesity epidemic, but the sugar levy is a useful weapon in the fight against obesity. The British Medical Journal suggests “the number who are overweight would reduce by 285,000 people” and the number who are obese reduced by 180,000. Obesity is not the only risk of a sugar-intense diet and many are ignorant of the conditions such a diet can cause: ischaemic heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, metabolic syndromes and arthritis are just some of the healthy problems associated with sugar-heavy diets. The sugar tax will allow the tide to slowly turn in the other direction.


The beauty of this new sugar levy is it allows us to attack the problem from two angles. Firstly, hopefully we see a reduction in the consumption of sugary drinks. Secondly, and more importantly, the money raised from this tax – an estimated £520m a year – will go towards increasing the funding for sports in primary schools.


This funding will allow us to instill healthy habits and lifestyles in children, which they will carry with them into adulthood. Only then will we slowly start to see a society willing to accept the risks of a sugar-heavy diet and ease an unnecessary pressure on our strained NHS.


The sugar tax should be embraced by all. We all stand to gain from the policy, and its impact will not only be felt by the poor. Diets will improve, funding for sports in schools will increase and knowledge about the dangers of sugar will improve, too. We should embrace the bold decision the Government has taken to actively push for a healthier society. Although only one small step in the overall fight against obesity, it is a step forward – and that makes this levy very sweet indeed.  


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